Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks all apologized to Parliament yesterday for the phone-hacking scandal. They renounced phone hacking, they said that it didn’t comply with their standards and assured everyone that they didn’t know about the phone hacking.
In his closing statement, Rupert Murdoch said: “I would like all the victims of phone hacking to know how completely and deeply sorry I am. Apologizing cannot take back what has happened. Still, I want them to know the depth of my regret for the horrible invasions into their lives.”
The real crime here? That all this apologizing is limited to the phone-hacking scandal.
Where are the words of heartfelt contrition for Max Mosley?
Mosley in 2008 was president of Formula One, or, as I prefer to call it, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). On March 30 of that year, News of the World ran a story under the byline of Neville Thurlbeck titled “F1 Boss has Sick Nazi Orgy with 5 Hookers.”
The story became the subject of a biting parliamentary report that slammed News of the World’s journalistic culture. According to the report, the Nazi sex-romp story “had been obtained with the help of one of the women participants in the session, later known as Woman E, who secretly filmed the proceedings using a camera supplied by News of the World and who was paid [approximately $20,000] by the paper.”
Formula One boss + prostitutes + video = record traffic for News of the World’s Web site.
Not to mention a high-profile breach-of-privacy lawsuit from Mosley, who conceded that he was into S&M but not Nazism. In the course of judicial proceedings, News of the World put forth a defense that you’ll hear often from British tabloid editors: Printing the information was in the “public interest.” The reasoning is that Mosley was a public figure as head of an international sporting organization. Here’s how the parliamentary report handles this question:
In his judgment, Mr Justice [David] Eady said that there might have been a public interest in revealing the Nazi theme of the session, if there had been such a theme:
“I have come to the conclusion . . . that if it really were the case, as the newspaper alleged, that [Mosely] had for entertainment and sexual gratification been ‘mocking the humiliating way the Jews were treated’, or ‘parodying Holocaust horrors’, there could be a public interest in that being revealed at least to those in the FIA to whom he is accountable.”
But the judge found the Nazi claim baseless. “[I]t was a precipitate conclusion that was reached ‘in the round,’ as Mr Thurlbeck put it. The countervailing factors, in particular the absence of any specifically Nazi indicia, were not considered.”
Scoreboard: News of the World paid a woman to videotape a sex romp with a motorsport executive. Then it slapped a “Nazi” overlay onto the session, despite specious evidence to support the claim. Perhaps the paper was shaming Mosley for his lineage; his father, Oswald Mosley, founded the British Union of Fascists.
And it gets even grosser. News of the World apparently wasn’t satisfied with a single story, a video and runaway online traffic. It wanted more. So Thurlbeck reached out to two other women involved in the session. His e-mail to these women should be displayed on a Newseum wall:
I’m just about to send you a series of pictures which will form the basis of our article this week. We want to reveal the identities of the girls involved in the orgy with Max as this is the only follow-up we have to our story. Our preferred story however, would be you speaking to us directly about your dealings with Max. And for that we would be extremely grateful. In return for this, we would grant you full anonimity, pixilate your faces on all photographs and secure a substantial sum of money for you. This puts you firmly in the driving seat and allows you much greater control as well as preserving your anonimities (your names won’t be used or your pictures).
Isn’t e-mail great? When questioned as to whether that message constituted blackmail, Thurlbeck responded:
I’m offering to give them something. I’m offering to pay them money for an anonymous intereview. I’m offering to pay them, not to take anything from them, so in that sense I’m not blackmailing them at all. That thought never crossed my mind. I’m offering them a choice.
A choice, yes, between ruined lives and a sweet follow-up story for News of the World.
The court put the matter before Thurlbeck’s boss, then-News of the World Editor Colin Myler. How could he justify that e-mail? Myler delivered what the judge termed a “non-answer.” The judge declared, “it would appear that Mr Myler did not consider there was anything at all objectionable about Mr Thurlbeck’s approach to the two women, as he did not query it at any stage. This discloses a remarkable state of affairs.”
It’s a state of affairs that continues to the present. During yesterday’s session before Parliament, Rupert Murdoch was asked if he’d used the News of the World scandal to institute stringent ethical standards at other papers.
“No,” replied the mogul.
Mosley won his suit along with damages of under $100,000.